Delhi - Ahmad Khan was walking towards a mosque to offer namaz when a friend told him, "Maine suna inho ne aab Meena Masjid ko bhi case kia hai (I heard they [Hindus] have filed a case against the Meena mosque," Khan was told.
The news left him sad and furious; he has been going to the mosque in Mathura in Uttar Pradesh, since childhood.
Thirty-eight-year-old Khan is a resident of Deeg Phatak, a locality near the Meena Masjid, the latest mosque to make an entry into the court's list.
On Monday, Dinesh Sharma, treasurer of Akhil Bharat Hind Mahasabha (ABHM) filed a fresh petition before the civil court judge in Mathura, seeking the removal of Meena Masjid. He claims that the mosque is constructed on a piece of land under Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi complex, believed to be the birthplace of Lord Krishna.
The petition came on the same day the Varanasi district court ruled that it would continue to hear petition seeking permission for daily worship of Hindu deities whose idols are located on an outer wall of the Gyanvapi mosque. The court rejected the plea questioning the maintainability of the petition.
"I filed the case in the capacity of a devotee and follower of Thakur Keshav Dev Ji Maharaj who owns the land measuring 13.37 acre within Khasra of Mathura, where Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi is located," Sharma had said. He added that on Janmashtami, he had noticed constructions being done allegedly by the Intezamia Committee of Meena Masjid which he believes is the land owned by Thakur Keshav Dev Ji Maharaj.
Sharma claims that he raised this issue with the committee and asked them to stop it. He said that he was threatened by the members of the committee following that incident.
This is the second petition by Sharma against the mosques in Mathura. Earlier, the ABHM leader had filed a petition seeking the removal of the Shahi Eidgah mosque which is adjacent to Sri Krishna Janmabhoomi. The case is pending before the court.
"It is not only a place where you pray, I have emotions and memories attached to this masjid. My grandfather used to take me to this place for namaz and I sometimes used to play there. How can it be snatched from us all of a sudden?" Khan said.
Following the namaz, Khan along with other Muslims in the neighbourhood discussed the lawsuit for the removal of Meena Masjid.
"It Dates Back To Shah Jahan Era"
Speaking to BOOM, Secretary of Meena Masjid, Muqeem Qureshi said that they have not been served the court notice yet.
Once he receives it, he said he will proceed after discussing it with members of the managing body. "We will seek legal help to fight back. Even if we need to go to the Supreme Court for the mosque's safeguard," Qureshi told BOOM.
"Ye Shah Jahan ki time ki hai (it dates back to Shah Jahan's time)", Quereshi said referring to the fifth Mughal emperor when asked about the history of Meena Masjid.
The Mina Masjid, was built during Shah Jahan's regime. Qureshi said that the mosque and the area around was believed to be the central place for any grand occasion of Muslims in Mathura. It has a small court in front and is fenced with high walls. There is no ornamentation and it is simple.
Qureshi had sought permission for its renovation from the Additional District Magistrate (ADM) and that, he said, triggered the dispute.
"We renovated the wazu khana and toilet in the courtyard of the masjid after getting due permission from the ADM/government. But it was stopped due to the interruption by Sharma and his few associates," he said.
"They Constructed Buildings On Our Land"
65-year-old Qureshi assumed the charge of secretary of the masjid management committee 24 years ago after his father died in 1998.
"In the last 24 years, there has never been any dispute between the masjid committee and Shri Krishna janmabhoomi supporters. They never bothered us, we never had any issue with them. We would cooperate on every matter," he said. However, he claimed that parts of the mosque's area have been encroached on by multiple parties, over the years.
A chunk of its land was taken over by the Indian Railways 150-years-ago to construct housing quarters. "Railways also grabbed our land and made 300 sq feet Kothi for its guards. There was no building or house in the vicinity of the mosque until the late 60s. In 1968, we reached a compromise with Hindus in connection with the Eidgah land," he explained.
He explained that Eidgah and Janmabhoomi is a one complex. "After repeated approaches and requests from Hindus, they were allowed to construct temple there," he told BOOM.
Qureshi said that he remembers that a small temple for Lord Krishna was constructed behind the mosque land in 1969" It was around 4x 4 feet in the west of the masjid. And they expanded it gradually and today it's a big grand structure," he told BOOM.
He said that there were three graveyards sharing the boundary of the masjid but in the last twenty years, the land was converted for commercial purposes.
"They destroyed three graveyards. They constructed buildings over hundreds of yards of land. I was young and we couldn't get a good advocate who could have fought our case," Qureshi said.
The east side of the masjid is a Muslim-dominated locality and the west is inhabited by both Hindus and Muslims.
"Issue To Drum Up Support For 2024 Elections"
Attacks on the acts of Muslim religious practice and cases on places of worship have been increasingly reported in the recent past. Legislations such as the 'Citizenship Amendment Act' and 'Love Jihad law' have made many Muslims such as Qureshi feel discriminated against.
The secretary of Meena Masjid sees the suit against the mosque as a part of the "same politics by the Hindutva forces"."You see, these people spew poison through mobile phones, and they are coming up with these disputes because they need an issue to drum up support in the name of Hindutva for the 2024 elections," he said.
Former Chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission and member All India Muslim Personal Law Board, Kamal Faruqui told BOOM that the growing attack on Muslim places of worship and discrimination against them is "dangerous".
"My country was never like this. Now, they want to destroy each and everything that has links with Muslims. It sounds like there's a Jungle Raj. Whatever is happening is not only unfortunate but it could be dangerous as well. As an Indian, I'm very concerned about my country," he expressed.
Faruqui blamed the government and the institutions that have been watching as "mute spectators" while, he said, the Muslim community faces discrimination. "In the Ayodhya verdict, despite no evidence that the land was owned by Hindus as they claimed, the Babri Masjid was snatched from us," he said.
In 2019, after a bitterly contested case between Hindus and Muslims, the Supreme Court had ordered that the disputed land of Ayodhya should be given to the Hindus even though it said that the demolition of the Babri mosque was against the law.
'We Will Fight Back'
As per the Indian Constitution, the Places of Worship Act 1991 states that the religious character of any place of worship as it was existing on August 15, 1947, must be maintained and no change in the character or claim cannot be exercised.
Faruqui and Qureshi, say the law which safeguards the rights of worship places, like in the Meena masjid case, is "confined to books only." Faruqui believes that there is a selective approach from the Judiciary towards minorities and it gives impunity to the Hindu groups to attack on their rights.
"It is believed and said that the law is blind. It is unbiased and safeguards the rights of every citizen but unfortunately, when it comes to Muslims, we see a biased and selective act by the law itself," he said.
"We hope that courts will do justice. If not, we will fight back no matter what. I will go to Lucknow and Allahabad and talk to senior advocates soon," Qureshi said.